Rants & Raves for the Week of June 6th, 2011
Don’t cross that picket line! The management at Albertsons, Ralphs and Vons supermarkets in southern California are once again going after their workers’ benefits (their latest contract proposal would wind up costing grocery workers up to $6,000 in out-of-pocket expenses!), and it looks like they’re forcing workers onto the picket line. But they last time they did that in 2003, the long strike resulted in a major victory for the workers. You can do your part to support the grocery workers going into your local Albertsons, Ralphs or Vons in southern California and letting the manager know that not only will you not cross a picket line, but if they force their employees into a strike situation you will never shop there again!
What do Guinness, Jose Cuervo, Johnny Walker and Moet & Chandon all have in common? Yes, they are all wildly popular brands of booze. They are also all labels sold British company Diageo. Diageo made $2.5 billion last year selling their well-known and often pricey bottles of beer, liquor and bubbly in the United States. Yet despite their soaring profits and a thriving American market, Diageo wants to close a bottling factory in Menlo Park and lay off 150 workers, including 126 ILWU Local 6 union members — and the company is eyeing the $54 million in pension contributions that have been made over the last 50 years. These workers are fighting for their jobs, their community and their hard-earned retirement security. We can all support Local 6 members and their families calling Diageo exec David Cutter at 203-229-7154, and telling him to keep the Menlo Park plant open!
Wal-Mart has made a name for itself as a notoriously anti-union employer. Every time Wal-Mart workers have tried to unionize, the corporation has eliminated their department or closed the store. But it turns out the corporate giant’s union busting is mainly reserved for American workers. In other countries, where the government actually protects the right of workers to organize, Wal-Mart seems to have no problem recognizing a union. When Wal-Mart recently sought to expand to South Africa, it agreed to honor existing union contracts for three years and not to eliminate any jobs for two years. In the United Kingdom and in Latin America, Wal-Mart has a growing number of unionized workers. In Mexico, 18% of Wal-mart workers are unionized; in China, 70% are. What does it say about our labor laws that Wal-Mart accepts the right to organize around the world but denies it here?
The debate on Capitol Hill over increasing the debt limit has given the House GOP a lot of opportunities to toss around misleading rhetoric about government spending. But what many people don’t know is that the GOP’s political grandstanding on the debt limit has very real – and quite negative – implications, including a possible spike in already high gas prices. According to a report from the National Journal, the GOP’s political games with the nation’s credit – they are demanding that raising the debt ceiling is tied to significant spending cuts that will hurt ordinary American — could lead to “a rise in what Americans pay for gasoline, according to economists of all political stripes.” The GOP position is all the more egregious given their unrelenting support for tax breaks for the rich and subsidies for the oil companies that are responsible for high gas prices. So if the GOP gets their way – and let’s hope they don’t – be sure to send them a thank you note for the $5 a gallon we’ll be paying for gas. You can bet the oil companies have already sent theirs.
Long-term unemployment has become a fact of life for many of the 2.1 million unemployed Californians. 1 in 3 of the unemployed in the state report that they have not worked in over a year. With federal extensions, the unemployed can collect unemployment insurance benefits for up to 99 weeks, yet over 439,000 Californians have already exhausted their benefits, leaving them with no income whatsoever. Deep and painful state budget cuts to the safety net only make matters worse for the unemployed as access to vital services is curtailed. At a time when the unemployed face a brutal job market and are rapidly exhausting their UI benefits, budget cuts only make the situation worse. Hopefully legislators will remember the unemployed as they vote on a budget this year and will protect programs to support the jobless and put them back to work.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s disastrous shot at taking out public sector unions could have a very unintended victim: Scott Walker! We’re ecstatic to report that the Wisconsin Democratic Party publicly committed to a recall effort against the boss man himself, to commence next year and to hopefully send him and his despicable anti-unionism packing. To qualify the recall petition for the ballot, Wisconsin statute sets the bar high: 540,000 signatures in 60 days. However, considering the hundreds of thousands of workers that flocked to Madison earlier this year to protest his attacks, and the thousands more who came out this week for the “Walkerville” tent city protest, we think kicking Walker to the curb isn’t just an achievable goal. It’s going to be a historic and inspiring victory.
When it comes to California’s budget, there’s not much to rave about these days. The GOP blocked the Governor’s plan to let the people decide on extending existing revenues to stave off massive cuts to schools, public safety jobs and other vital services. But even in this difficult time, working families are stepping up to urge our legislators to do the right thing and stop additional, devastating cuts. Stand Up for California – a wide coalition of educators, law enforcement, clergy and concerned Californians – took the “stop the cuts” message this week to the offices of State Senator Tom Harman and Assemblymember Katcho Achadjian. These are the latest of many grassroots actions from Californians from all walks of life to urge legislators to pass a fair budget that protects all that we value as a state. With the budget deadline looming, let’s hope at least a few Republicans are listening to their constituents and will cast votes for a budget that protects our families and future.
In other budget news, legislative Republicans may still have their heads in the sand, but even business groups are starting to come around and recognize the need for a fair budget that includes extending revenues. This week, the California Retailers Association came out this week in support of Gov. Brown’s budget plan to extend the current tax rates in order to stave off billions in additional cuts ot schools, public safety, vital services and jobs. The California Retailers Association is the first major business group to offer an unqualified endorsement of Brown’s proposal, though other groups including the California Chamber of Commerce have shown a willingness to support the extensions. Hopefully more groups from the business community will quickly jump on board once they realize that extending current revenues is the only way we can get our economy back on track and stimulate real consumer spending.
Tired of Fox News’ distorted and biased coverage of workers’ issues? So are we. That’s why it was a breath of fresh air to see the launch of SEIU’s new National Workforce Network, an online news channel that presents the real stories and issues that workers face today. Modeled on California’s SEIU 1000 own internet channel, Channel 1000, this new national network will serve as an important counter to Fox’s bias. Check it out!